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Banksy opens 'Walled Off Hotel' in Bethlehem

Banksy said that the new hotel would be 'a real business venture, not an art stunt'
A Palestinian woman stands with a child in an alley next to reproduction of a mural by British street artist Banksy, originally painted on the wall of the West Bank in Bethlehem (AFP)

Street artist Banksy has opened a hotel hotel next to Israel’s separation wall in Bethlehem, aimed at attracting Israeli tourists to the city to open a dialogue with the Palestinians.

Name the "The Walled Off Hotel", the nine-bedroom building is staffed by local people, who were unaware Banksy was behind the project. It contains dozens of Banksy's works, a themed bar and interactive exhibits. It will also host exhibitions by Palestinian artists.

Although Israelis are officially banned from entering the Palestinian Authority-controlled areas in the West Bank, the hotel, which opened on Friday, is situated in an area just outside the city which is under Israeli control.

Banksy says people from all political and ethnic walks of life in the Middle East are welcome to stay in the hotel. Reportedly, the hotel has been “decorated to resemble an English gentlemen’s club from colonial times” to make a point about the UK's historical role in establishing the state of Israel in 1948.

Banksy's spokespeople insisted the building is "a real business venture, not an art stunt", with rooms to be rented out later.

Bethlehem tourism firms have long complained that the wall and Israel's continued occupation of the West Bank have crippled business.

Banksy and Palestine

The artist has a long history in the Palestinian territories.

In February 2015, he allegedly sneaked into the Gaza Strip through a smuggling tunnel and painted three works on the walls of Gaza homes destroyed in Israeli air strikes during the devastating conflict of the previous year.

In 2007, he painted a number of artworks in Bethlehem, including a young girl frisking an Israeli soldier pinned up against a wall.

In 2005, he sprayed nine stencilled images on the vast barrier erected by Israel to separate itself from most of the occupied West Bank.

The wall is one of the most striking symbols of Israel's 50-year occupation, and has become a major focus for demonstrations and art work.

Israel refers to it as the security barrier and insists it is crucial for keeping out would-be attackers.

Banksy said in 2005 that he considered the wall illegal and that his work sought to highlight the impact of the barrier on the lives of Palestinians.

His stencils were sprayed hastily at different locations along the eight-metre wall for fear of discovery by Israeli soldiers.

They included a ladder reaching over the wall, a young girl being carried over it by balloons and a window on the grey concrete showing beautiful mountains in the background.

He admitted the wall made "the ultimate activity holiday destination for graffiti writers".

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